By TYLER GRAY
IN the 26 years’ worth of videos on “Madonna Celebration: The Video Collection,” the global pop icon inhabits more memorable personalities than Sybil. The two-disc set of 47 videos (the companion to her newly remastered hits on CD), out Tuesday from Warner Bros., is a must-have for anyone who ever wore fingerless gloves, a fake lip mole, or a wedding dress to a nightclub.
“Thinking about them brings home the huge range of her work,” says William Orbit, her longtime collaborator and the three-time Grammy-winning producer behind “Ray of Light,” the seminal single in Madonna’s electronic trip. The one she’s still on. Her new single, “Celebration” is her 40th No. 1 hit, this time topping Billboard’s Hot Dance Club Play Chart. Orbit is most fond of her more recent videos for “Frozen” and “Bedside Story,” though he concedes that the bubble-gum clips from the ’80s “certainly get better with time.” It’s the old vs. young Elvis debate for a new generation, minus the obesity and addictions.
Whether she was wearing a simple hipster skirt in “Burning Up” or flashing more mesh and fishnet than all of Hong Kong Harbor in “Lucky Star,” the fashion she defined in the early ’80s is today’s American apparel. Her gender-bending, crotch-grabbing, cross-burning, rule-breaking raunchiness were the source materials for the pop star playbook studied today by Katy Perry, Lady GaGa and the like. And at the height of MTV’s golden age, she embraced music videos like no one else.
She mimicked Marilyn (“Material Girl”) and flippantly defiled the pristine white paint job on a Datsun 280z (“Borderline”). She starred in her own mini-dramas (“Papa Don’t Preach,” “La Isla Bonita”), and has been a power blonde, a sultry brunette and virtually every tint and temperament in between.
This $30 collection includes every phase — even her duds. The “Live To Tell” video, for example, features interstitial scenes from Sean Penn’s snoozer “At Close Range” proving she must have truly loved him once. “Get Into the Groove,” from her own vehicle “Desperately Seeking Susan,” on the other hand, has some classic images: Madge cooling her sweaty pits in a bathroom hand dryer? Check. Her dancing with that poet-shirted, Flock of Seagulls devotee? Check.
Then there’s Madonna the blasphemous in “Like a Prayer.” “Pet Cemetery” director Mary Lambert provides the blood-weeping false idol and Madonna provides a sinfully titillating cleavage dance in front of a milieu of burning crosses. It’s as offensive today as it was in ’89.
Disc 1 deftly recaps Madonna’s button-pushing era. She dons a suit and grabs her junk for director David Fincher in “Express Yourself,” then straps on bondage gear (or goes au natural) in “Justify My Love” and “Erotica.”
Disc 2 is a portrait of the artist as a grown-up disco diva. The fast-forward “Ray of Light” video is like legal Ecstasy. But awkward moments in her pop-culture history are strangely repeated. The video for the Grammy-winning tune “Beautiful Stranger,” written with Orbit, features Madonna making out with Austin Powers in his Union Jack-themed Jag, for example.
There’s plenty of genre-hopping, too. The country-ish “Don’t Tell Me” segues awkwardly into “What It Feels Like for a Girl,” a slice of ultra-violence directed by Madonna’s then-husband Guy Ritchie and banned by MTV in the US. One of the last high points is the leotard-and-parkour fest that is “Hung Up.” Time, indeed, has gone by so slowly for the impeccably toned Madonna.